"We thought we'd come out here and take a look and see what they do," said Katayuma, 59, who spent the better part of Saturday with his family touring the Moffett Field center. He was one of thousands of curious visitors who attended the open house, Ames' first in 17 years.
Visitors to the event visited booths set up by NASA researchers looking at everything from nanotechnology to astrobiology. They walked inside Hangar One and peered through its steel skeleton. They walked through an inflatable mock-up of an International Space Station module, pretended to take a ride in a model of a lunar rover, and took pictures next to an inflatable model of the new Orion space capsule.
They also got to go inside the "back fence," the inner part of NASA Ames where its employees actually work. There, some lucky folks got to go inside particular buildings while others were able to just view some of the imposing structures.
Perhaps most impressive was Ames' National Full Scale Aerodynamic Complex, a gigantic wind tunnel complex used to test the aerodynamics of full-sized aircraft. Show organizers opened two massive doors on the wind tunnel, allowing visitors to take a rare look inside.
"People often wonder post-Shuttle what NASA's doing," said Chuck Duff, Ames' director of center operations. "We're doing more than ever. We're focusing on exploration."
Seeing the wind tunnel up close was the one thing Katayuma definitely wanted to do during his visit. "The sheer size of this one building is the most impressive thing we've seen so far," he said.
Show organizers were expecting a crowd of 150,000 people. They handed out 120,000 tickets to the event last month. But organizers weren't checking for tickets at the door, meaning that anyone who fought the traffic -- which backed up cars on northbound and southbound Highway 101 and on Moffett Boulevard -- could get in.
Many visitors came with their kids in tow, whether to accommodate their interest in space science -- or to try to encourage it.
That was certainly what Rachel Chang was thinking when she heard that tickets were available for the open house. She thought it would be a good opportunity for her kids to learn about Ames.
"Maybe they'll start to have more interest in this field," said Chang, 45, a pre-school teacher in Sunnyvale.
Shailesh Mittal's daughter didn't need any encouraging -- she's already a space nut. She was watching a documentary on the history of Ames' wind tunnels, while Mittal and his family waited and indulged her interest.
For Mittal, a 34-year-old software architect from Santa Clara, one of the highlights of the day was being able to walk through the mock-up of the International Space Station.
"There were so many cool things to see," he said. "There were so many things you have to be aware of."
NASA had employees visiting from several of its space centers around the country to explain various projects.
David Hitt, who works in communications at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, was on hand to answer people's questions about the Orion capsule.
Hitt said that he was excited to be part of the team working with the new space vehicle and excited to be able to talk with the public about it.
"The opportunity to talk to 100,000 people in one day is amazing," he said.
Some people were visiting Ames from even farther away. Matt De Vincentis, 27, was at the open house with some of his family members from Australia who happened to be in town.
De Vincentis, who works in high-tech marketing, said he was excited to see up close the buildings he's only seen from a distance while driving past them on 101. Even an hour drive to the event from Cupertino didn't dampen his enthusiasm to be there.
For him, one of the best things was just arriving at the facility.
"It was pretty awesome to drive out on the runway and walk through Hangar One," he said.